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The Origins of Lockcard

Xinyi Fu
November 1, 2020
Illustrations by Yuxuan Wu

A Tale of Struggle

I clearly remember the first time the idea of Lockcard, or at least a somewhat vague first version of it, crossed my mind. It was in a sunny afternoon and I was stuck in my little student residence room located in the 5th district of Paris, as part of my university year abroad.

After a year and half, I had barely reached the level I originally hoped for. Don't get me wrong, I tried almost everything, including paper flashcards which had helped me ace my English and Japanese tests back in the days. This time, flashcards couldn't do the trick. There was too much distraction in Paris and I was generally busy. I couldn't put my mind to it.

I lacked perseverance to stick to an exercise, day after day, to memorize the spelling, definition, usage and so on of every single word that composes this weird language.

I'm not alone in that struggle. It is increasingly common for young people to fail to commit even 5 minutes of their day to learning. We believe that learning has changed from a high-cognition activity originally to a more repetitive process because apps that encourage rote learning. Typically, we all get excited early on, but fail to keep that motivation when it comes to practicing daily. According to our user interviews, learners are generally aware of this 'human flaw' and feel guilty about it. In fact, another reason for experiencing a loss in motivation is this said 'learning plateau' where you feel like the same amount of effort doesn't generate as much progress as before.

Some reflection

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

You and I are are busy people. And yet, we check our phones 58 times a day on average. In fact, we've become so addicted that I look into the void of my phone's home screen, swiping left and right with no particular end goal, before locking it again. What if we could learn new words as effortlessly as checking our phone?

What if we could learn new words as effortlessly as checking our phone?

If that were true, I would ace my French test. In that perfect world, every time I reach for my phone, I learn a new word. Using some kind of smart flashcard system, you could memorize vocabulary right from the lock screen, without even having to open the app. It's the perfect app for lazy people.

This is how it all started. I was so excited about this idea that the next day I created a playful high-fidelity mockup without considering any constraints. I read everything I could find about cognitive study on memory and then I conducted some empathy user research. Based on that, I validated the initial idea and expanded the solution to a full experience combining dictionary-searching and reviewing vocab with flashcard notifications. I completed my case study, feeling content with my work.

Our progress

It was about that time my partner, Leo, came in. He is a talented designer with lots of energy and a strong entrepreneurial spirit that I admire. He took a strong interest in my case-study and quickly pushed to make the project a reality. Lockcard was born.

It took me 12 years of hard work to speak fluent English as a Chinese native. Therefore, I deeply understand how much effort it takes for our brains to adapt to a different language system. I believe there is no shortcut for learning vocabulary, we have to go through the repetition of learning each word to train our brain to recognize and use vocabulary in a different language.

To be honest, I still lack the confidence and determination of a founder, but I am confident that my drive is fuelled by a passion for learning languages and for helping others overcome that challenge.

You can read more about where we are at in our startup journey here!

Charlotte Chen, Designer @Duolingo

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